Wyoming’s EV charging desert sparks interest of private businesses, but the state is hesitant
Big, one-ton diesel trucks are something you see a lot of in Wyoming. A state known for large swaths of untouched, rugged land.
“You got 100 miles between everything,” said David Halter, a fourth generation Wyomingite from Rock Springs. “There's very little civilization.”
Halter grew up with the culture of big trucks. But four years ago, he and his wife went fully electric.
“No particular reason other than electricity is cheaper,” he said.
They recently went on a road trip in their electric vehicle (EV) to see the sites of Wyoming, including Yellowstone National Park – but it was tricky. They had to divert into Montana to charge their Tesla, spending their money there, instead of some of their favorite small, Wyoming towns.
“I like to go to those places, but I can't now because there's very little charging in those locations,” Halter said.
Tourism is a $4.5 billion industry in Wyoming, partly because of its huge roadtrip destinations, like Grand Teton National Park and Devil’s Tower. With more Americans driving EV’s than ever, road trippers coming through Wyoming need access to EV chargers.
Wyoming, the ninth largest state land-wise, only has 95 charging stations. For comparison, neighboring Colorado has over 2,000 stations. It’s nearly impossible to travel a lot of Wyoming roadways by EV. The state is hesitant to build out the infrastructure, but private companies see this as an opportunity.
A private business builds chargers
“I just wanted to welcome you guys,” said Mike Yin on a recent fall day.
Yin is president of OtterSpace, which opened a new EV charger in Pinedale, Wyoming this fall.
“I like to say it’s infrastructure week when we open one of these chargers,” he said. “So, this creates a route between I-80 and Yellowstone.”
Now those in Pinedale can find the steady hum of a charging station right behind the downtown coffee shop and across the street from the Coral Bar.
Some locals came to see the new charger in action. Yin, who’s also a member in Wyoming’s legislature, demonstrated on his own Tesla.
“Now you make sure your car is plugged in, take it out of the port, put it in the adapter,” Yin said. “That's essentially like a gas pump, right? Instead of pumping liquid gas, it's pumping electrons to the batteries.”
Before this, there was just one electric charger in town. It is for Tesla’s only and a full charge takes about eight hours. And much to the frustration to drivers who come to plug in, that charger is often blocked by diesel trucks. But this new one can charge all kinds of EVs in about 30 minutes.
Pinedale’s Mayor Matt Murdock hopes this will bring in tourism dollars. The next closest chargers are 77 miles one direction and 135 miles another. EV’s have mileage ranges between 150 to 300 miles.
“It opens up Pinedale to a wide variety of tourists who would normally not come up this direction, because their batteries die, and they can't make the distance,” Murdock said at Yin’s event.
Pinedale has long been known for its natural gas fields and ranching but Murdock said they can all coexist.
“We produce a ton of energy here. This is just another source,” he said. “And so, you know, I don't think we want to say, ‘We don't want anybody who doesn't drive electric vehicles in Sublette County, right?’”
This is just one of four locations that Yin opened in Wyoming this year at about $150,000 a pop, all on his company’s dime.
“One of the reasons I built something without any government funds at all was to say, ‘Yes, that it is possible for stations in Wyoming to work,’” Yin said.
That’s because the state isn’t so sure. This spring, Wyoming put a pause on federal funding for EV charging stations. It was about $26 million the state could’ve dolled out over five years to private businesses. But, Jordan Young, deputy public affairs officer with Wyoming’s Department of Transportation, said there are a few concerns – like what if a business went under before that five years? How would the state not bear that responsibility?
“The state is not intending to own or operate these stations,” Young said. “So we wanted to make sure that there were mechanisms in place in case the stations did not stay open that full five years.”
They’ve been working through that with the feds this fall. Another thing they’re negotiating is how far apart the chargers can be, as right now the funding requires every 50 miles.
“We don't even have towns every 50 miles. We don't necessarily even have a gas station every 50 miles,” Young said. “It's a lot of pronghorn and sagebrush.”
Young added that they’d also like to see how other states use the funding and build out their infrastructure before Wyoming jumps in.
If an eventual agreement can be reached between the state and feds, that money is still available as soon as next year for private businesses like Yin’s, who said they’ll build more chargers if they get access to that funding. For now that leaves much of that sagebrush landscape accessible to diesel trucks and pronghorn – not electric vehicles.